The Teenage Brain: How to Nurture It and Why It Matters
Teenagers undergo a myriad of changes; some are more visible than others. Of all the transformations, perhaps one of the most significant (and least discussed) is brain development during adolescence – an incredible feat that sees young brains mature from almost 95% adult size to full maturity by their mid-20s! From newly forming connections throughout puberty triggered by age, experience and hormonal shifts, these years represent a critical period for teenagers as they develop into functioning adults.
As we watch our teenagers grow and develop, it is interesting to note the changes occurring in their brains.
The teenage brain undergoes a ‘pruning’ process whereby unused connections are removed from its grey matter while others are strengthened – like an efficiency upgrade! Most notably, pruning begins with the back of the brain before reaching its climax at the decision-making part (the prefrontal cortex), which continues to be remodeled into early adulthood, providing teens with increased capacity for critical thinking and problem solving.
The teenage brain is powered by the amygdala – an emotional center of impulses, aggression, and instincts. With their prefrontal cortex still maturing, adolescents often turn to this primitive part for decision-making more than adults do. Brace yourselves: Teen brains are not 100% logical!
Here are a few things parents can do to foster healthy brain growth during this remodeling phase.
Provide Healthy Experiences
Parenting can shape the brains of our children, helping to tailor them toward their own unique skills and abilities. Teens are driven to establish a sense of purpose that is tied to their unique skills and abilities. It’s important to think about how your child spends their time – if they’re using it for music lessons, sports practice, clubs, jobs, or video games- as this could help form essential decision-making skills that they can access as adults. Repeated skills, activities and habits during these years make connections and have the potential to become ‘hard wired’ in the brain. Give them space to explore new activities. Once they discover what they like, help them build positive character traits and a sense of purpose by routinely engaging them in those activities.
It’s also important to remember that your teen is naturally wired to engage in risk-taking and challenging experiences. Instead of discouraging them, give them the space to take healthy risks, like traveling and sports. Showing love, empathy, and support is a powerful part of encouraging healthy brain remodeling while promoting good thinking skills helps strengthen those neural pathways evermore!
Keep the Brain Free of Injury and Healthy
To avoid short-circuiting the remodeling process, it’s vital to keep the brain healthy and free of injury. Model healthy choices, such as wearing seatbelts and helmets along with avoiding poor choices like drugs and alcohol. Help your teen find activities they enjoy outside school — whether it’s sports or creative expression like writing & reading—as positive outlets for stress release as their brain continues developing! Your teen also needs to hear you forgive them and share words of affirmation – which helps them make healthy choices and not get stuck during this critical stage of development.
Encourage Healthy Health Habits
Ensure your teen gets the proper rest they need to flourish and reach their full potential by creating a relaxing bedtime routine that includes warm showers or reading. Help steer them away from devices before hitting the hay, setting digital ones in “night mode” for peace of mind. Exercise is also key – physical activity provides energy plus health benefits! Stock up on nutritious meals filled with fruits & veggies, whole grains and healthy proteins so they can continue growing strong both inside and out – bonus points if you cook together as a family fun time too!
Support your teen during this phase so that they can become independent and responsible adults check out our blog about Parent tips on teenage brain development and learning style.
Making a decision about careers and colleges while your teen’s brain is remodeling can stressful. Our track record shows that we know how to help them. Contact us today.